Where are the UK academic bloggers?

Yesterday, I spent a long but exciting day at an eLearning Symposium organised by the Economics Network. The delegates were keen to learn and withstood the bombardment of Web 2.0 applications that we were telling them about. The hands-on session concentrated on blogging and it got me to wondering why aren’t more UK academics blogging?

To take economics as an example, go to a blog aggegator such as the Economics Roundtable and you will see that there are plenty of US academics blogging, but UK blogs tend to come from companies, media organisations or collaborative organisations such as VoxEU or policy focussed think tanks like the Adam Smith Institute.

From chatting to the delegates yesterday, here’s a few of the key barriers to blogging:

Time –  between lecturing, marking, research, admin, meetings etc. there are only so many hours in the day, therefore as long as blogging is just one more thing to do, then it’s entirely understandable that there is a reluctance among academics to take the plunge. However a blog that supports a course, records your ideas as you undertake a research project, archives online readings that you have come across or is even written by your students – can save you time and it may soon become a virtual notebook that is a natural part of your academic routine.

Fear – like any niche activity, blogging has it’s own jargon that can seem baffling or exclusive to those who aren’t involved. There are too many conversations between people who like technology, telling other people who like technology, how great technology is. Just sitting down with a group of academics and showing them that all it takes is an email address and 5 minutes at WordPress.com or Blogger.com to set up a blog can de-mystify the whole process. Or as one delegate put it yesterday, “If I had known it was that easy, I would have set-up a blog ages ago”.

Benefits – the potential gains from blogging may not be obvious at first glance, so it’s worth spelling them out. Brad DeLong has used the phrase “the invisible college” to represent the idea that a global community can read, comment on and improve his ideas, because he published them online. Research funders will like those who disseminate their research findings and having a blog will enable you to do that while side-stepping the mainstream media, so presenting your work as you want. Increasingly commentary is content and gaining a reputation in the blogosphere might just make your latest book a bestseller.

So what needs to change? How can we help break down those blogging barriers? Here are a few suggestions, again from those at the symposium:

  • Training – probably best supplied at the institutional level, but showing people how to get going with blogs need not take long
  • Advice – there are pros and cons to engaging with the blogosphere, as there are with any other online activity – try the Guide to Blogging in Economics
  • Support – institutions should be clear who supports this activity within their set-up and policies should remind users that the acceptable use of computing facilities applies to blogs as well

A point made by one of the delegates, was that enthusiasm from below needs to be matched by support, buy-in and resources from above – perhaps this may lead to a Chief Blogging Officer appearing at a university near you soon!

Intute: Social Sciences features more UK based blogs and our editors reviewed Our Favourite Social Science Blogs earlier this year, including our pick of the leading economics blogs, plus there are more blogs featured elsewhere on Intute.